An understanding of culture and place is fundamental to connecting with Swedes and their country. In my experience as a newcomer here, exploring different parts of Sweden has helped me connect both with my new home and with the people who live here by fostering a deeper understanding of the histories, cultural traditions and landscapes that form a part of Swedish identity. Here are a few excuses to travel more in Sweden ways that travel can help you to feel more at home here.
Get out of Stockholm
Stockholm is a beautiful city filled with a wealth of things to experience. But Stockholm is not Sweden. If you really want to connect with Swedes, you need to go beyond the tourist meccas of the Vasa Museum and Gamla Stan. Sweden is not homogenous and the climate, history, dialects, landscapes and traditions of particular regions have all shaped the identities of the different groups of people who live here.
For example, you’ll find a fascinating Baltic maritime culture in the Blekinge region in south-east Sweden. In the far north, you’ll encounter Finnish, Sami and Meänkieli languages, Arctic landscapes and Sweden’s minority people, the Sápmi. Värmland, the home of Selma Lagerlöf and Gustaf Fröding, offers a glimpse into Sweden’s rich literary culture, while the Bohuslän Coast contains petroglyphs from the Bronze Age that showcase the country’s ancient history. You’ll gain far more insight into Swedish culture and history from visiting such places than you will from sticking to the most popular tourist destinations.
Swap the city for the country
With its swathes of pine forest, pristine lakes, pastoral landscapes and red-and-white cottages, the Swedish countryside offers a welcome respite from the urban hustle and bustle. During Summer it’s golden and magical, while the Autumn and Winter months host gourmet food festivals and lively country markets. These local events have a more authentic vibe than those in bigger cities. So instead of planning a city break for your next weekend away, head for the countryside, enjoy some fresh air and some lugn och ro and get a taste of what life is like in rural Sweden.
Get into the friluftsliv
Speaking of fresh air, you won’t see much of Sweden by staying inside. As a bookish, indoorsy type, I used to need serious encouragement to venture outside when it dropped below +10 degrees celsius (so in Sweden, that’s most of the time). But after living in Sweden for several years now, I’ve well and truly become a friluftsmänniska, counting activities such as hiking, cycling, camping and canoeing on my ‘favourite things to do’ list. Many Swedes I’ve met are very active and love outdoor activities, and I’ve found that there’s always someone up for a kayaking trip, a day hike or a visit to a nearby nature reserve or national park. So embracing an outdoor lifestyle will not only let you see more of your surroundings but might just help you make more friends as well.
Explore what’s on your doorstep
Don’t assume that because you don’t have much time on your hands or a large budget you can’t explore what Sweden has to offer; the best experiences don’t necessarily lie far afield. Start with your own immediate surroundings. If you live in a city, seek out a neighbourhood you haven’t visited before and try out its restaurants, shops and parks. If you live in a smaller city or rural area as I do, get outside and take advantage of the multitude of hiking and cycling trails, nature reserves and local festivals and markets. Start small; simple everyday explorations can make a big difference to how connected you feel to your surroundings.
On several occasions, my partner and I have been driving along a highway and spotted a sign for a gravfält or fornborg. Our curiosity has resulted in some memorable experiences, including wading through fields of waist-high grass to reach Iron Age burial mounds and clambering up Viking hill-forts next to roadside rest stops. Rune stones, rock carvings and stone ship settings to be found in the least likely of places. Next time you’re on the road, turn off when you see a sign for a heritage site. You never know what you might find that will teach you a little more about Sweden’s fascinating past.
Embrace the seasons
Sweden is certainly not known for being a budget destination. On the bright side, it has very distinctive seasons, which means that you can stay in the same place and get four completely unique experiences in one year. Without even leaving Karlstad, I can find myself sunbathing by a lakeside beach in Summer, hiking through the forest munching blueberries in Autumn and ice skating on a frozen lake in Winter. Take advantage of the different activities that are possible during each season. Even if you aren’t travelling very far, you’ll still feel as though you are experiencing new things.
Bonus tip: Ask for suggestions
Sometimes it can be difficult to get to know Swedes, but I’ve found that a great method for overcoming the awkwardness of small talk is to ask for tips on things to see and do in Sweden. It’s a more interesting conversation starter than the weather but it’s still something that everyone can talk about. I’ve received wonderful tips from Swedish friends and colleagues about local walking trails, museums and festivals. Plus, if you take someone’s advice, then your shared experience of a particular place will be something that connects you.
So, where in Sweden are you headed to next?
Clarissa Hirst is a researcher turned travel writer originally from Sydney, Australia. She currently lives in Karlstad in the Värmland region of Sweden, where she enjoys exploring her surroundings through weekend hikes, bike rides, café hopping and motorcycle adventures with her partner. She writes for various travel platforms and runs the travel blog Researcher Gone Rogue. You can connect with her on Twitter.